The virgin Mary wasn’t a virgin….

1 Mar

Later this week my religion class is going to be “debating” whether or not Jesus was born of a virgin. I of course am going to say he wasn’t, and as practice thought I’d run through my reasons here.

What I think it comes down to is probability. Which is a more probable explanation for crop circles?

A) Aliens with super advanced technology that allows them to travel MILLIONS of light years flew all the way to earth to secretly make patterns on farmer Joe’s field and leave without making official contact in broad daylight

B) Somebody is playing a prank on farmer Joe and made the crop circle like this.

Naturally, B is more probable, so what about the explanation for the “virgin birth of Jesus?”

A) An invisible being that created the entire universe decided to zoom in on earth, single out Mary, and send an angel to tell her that he had magically impregnated her with his son right before she was to be married

B) Mary became pregnant the same way everyone else always had, through sexual intercourse, right before her marriage, and knowing that the punishment for such an act was death by stoning decided to claim that god did it.

Again, B is more probable. Occam’s razor states that one should not make more assumptions than the minimum needed.

This is the point where I expect the christians in the class to pull what they believe to be the ultimate trump card, “Anything is possible through god!”

Let me ask you something. Is it possible that ships float because invisible mermaids hold them up? Yes, it is possible. But then we have two competing explanations for the same result, on one hand invisible mermaids, and on the other the entire field of ship design and science of buoyancy, which is observable and testable. “Anything is possible with god” is a slipper slope to all forms of ridiculous bullshit. Yes, ANYTHING is possible with god, but not PROBABLE. It’s possible that unicorns exist. It’s possible that all pigs could grow wings overnight and fly, it’s possible that there won’t be a sunrise in the morning, but none of these things are at all probable.

This is where I assume the argument ends, yet there is something else I might come up against. One of the christians might become so desperate as to try and say that we can’t trust observation as a way of gaining information. For example, they might say that we can never KNOW for certain that a ball will fall if we drop it. They will admit that a ball has always fallen when dropped, and that the theory of gravity explains this, but we can’t 100% KNOW it will happen again in the future.

Basically this person is advocating that since we can’t know anything to absolute certainty, we should just believe something stupid, regardless of the amount of supporting evidence the opposite side has. There is a really good/short video that explains this here

One should also take into consideration that there is precedent for Mary’s claim. The Pharaoh Amenkept III, Ra, Perseus, Romulus, Mithras, Krishna, Horus, Melanippe, Auge and Antiope all claimed to be born from virgins. Plus, Mary, being Jewish, would have know the prophecy about Immanuel in Isaiah 7:14. What’s more likely?

Yet I expect some people to say “well it’s a matter of faith, and I choose to believe it.” Well fine, as long as you acknowledge that you’re purposely believing in something that has been demonstrated to be ridiculous in impossible, and to that extent you should not be considered a rational adult, nor be taken seriously as such.

10 Responses to “The virgin Mary wasn’t a virgin….”

  1. oddinnuendo March 2, 2009 at 9:04 pm #

    Why is it so hard for people to believe that in order to conceive, it requires the simple process of sexual intercourse?! (Let’s not get into the more modern day sciences of IVF treatment and sperm donors, let’s stick to Mary’s era).

    I once debated with a Muslim guy about this. He said Islam and Science can go hand in hand – and I brought up the idea of Mary being a virgin, and how that most certainly does not go hand in hand with science. Funnily enough, he got defensive and started saying that he will pray that I get brain cancer for saying such a thing…(this whole ordeal can be viewed at my blog…) So much for Islam going hand in hand with Science, hey?!

  2. xmasfish March 5, 2009 at 2:25 pm #

    Your reasoning displays an understanding of probability that is about 300 years out of date. Are you familiar with Bayes’ Theorem?

    In your argument, you merely consider the intrinsic probability of the Virgin Birth hypothesis i.e. the probablity of the virgin birth given our background knowledge- Pr(H/B)

    Pr= Probalility
    H= Hypothesis of the Virgin Birth
    B= Background knowledge
    E= Evidence

    The true probablity of H is:

    -Pr(H/E&B) (The probablitiy of the miricle given total evidence)

    divided by

    -Pr(not-H/E&B) (The probablity of the miricle’s not occuring given the total evidence)

    These values can be found by the following equation:

    Pr(H/B) divided by Pr(not-H/B) multiplied by Pr(E/H&B) divided by Pr(E/not-H&B)

    The only evidence available to both sides is the testimony of the Virgin Birth found in Matthew and Luke- the question is therefor, how probable is it, given our background information, that two books reference the virgin birth as an historical fact if:

    (a) The Virgin Birth actually occured or
    (b) The Virgin Virth was an invention

    The Virgin Birth is found in two biographies of Jesus’s life- Matthew and Luke. While these are two separate books, they share the same source material- either oral tradition or the hypothetical “Q” document. However, Mark, which used the same source fails to mention the Virgin Birth, suggesting that this important detail was not to be found in the shared source. This means that the two accounts of the Virgin Birth are independant. This is further evidenced by the fact that the two accounts are completely different from one another in terms of language, giving us no reason to suppose that they share the same source.

    So we have two indepenent witness accounts of the Virgin Birth, only one of which cites the Old Testament allusion which you claim inspired the story.

    We must also ask, what of Joseph? We are told that he wanted to quietly divorce Mary- why then would he change his mind, being a good man, on the basis of a lie?

    In order to affirm or deny the Joseph claim, one must either prove or disprove the historicity of that particular section.

    Also, I find it amusing that you think that Mary could avoid stoning by simply claiming “God did it”. As if people would actually believe her. She’d be better pressed claiming she was raped or something- people back then wern’t gullibal fools, they knew that a man and woman were needed for a baby to be born.

    Also, the background knowledge B must be taken into consideration. This is where I believe the debate will end up- does God exist? This is because your background knowledge will include the statement (God does not exist) whilst the theists will include the statement (God exists). The existence of God lends little support to H UNLESS it can be shown that H can be shown to have occured in a significant socio-relgious context. And it clearly did. The life of Jesus was one unparralleded in history. It is historically accepted that Jesus understood himself as God incarnate- he also had a ministry of faith healings and exorcisms. The events surrounding his apparent Ressurection are best explained BY the Resurection hypothesis etc.

    Also, he fulifilled many roles that a Messiah would be expected to. He came at a time that Daniel prophesis the Messiah would come. He predicted the 70 AD destruction of the Temple.

    The Virgin Birth passage in the O.T. was a messianic prophesy.

    Thus, given that Jesus is very likely the jewish messiah, and that God very likely exists and so can perform miricles, it is very likely that God could cause the virgin birth.

    I’m actually trying to help you here, and am not intending to debate the issue. All I’m doing is providing a plausible and strong argument that you may have to come up against.

    Also, I wouldn’t use the “pagan paralles” argument- you are way on the fringe of scholarship there my friend. No modern, credential Jesus scholar believes that the paralles actually exist, nevermind inspired the Gospel’s account of Jesus.

    And Odd Innuendo, you clearly arn’t familiar with the concept of a miricle?

  3. Silus March 5, 2009 at 5:30 pm #

    1. A Miracle is something that should not be possible but occurs anyways.
    2. We have never had ANY reliable proof or evidence of a miracle actually occurring.
    3. The bible is not a reliable source. It has been edited and re-written and translated enough times that meanings have changed. For proof, look at the differences between a modern bible’s O.T. section and the original hebrew version. They will have different meanings in many places.

    All of this comes down to the point of whether or not the class accepts the bible as a source document or not. If they accept it as true, then no argument against the ‘virgin birth’ will hold up.

  4. godlesspaladin March 7, 2009 at 1:17 pm #

    “So we have two indepenent witness accounts of the Virgin Birth, only one of which cites the Old Testament allusion which you claim inspired the story.”

    A_Nony_Mouse wrote:
    “What independent witnesses? The word witness has a meaning. A witness to a virgin birth would have to examine the virgin while pregnant to establish just eligability for virgin status. Intactae does not mean no sperm involved. Regenerating hymens are known.

    Witness does not mean some asshole who makes a claim.

    The fact is a human male requires both X and Y chromosomes. Women have only X chromosomes. God’s got human sperm.”

    geirj wrote:
    “His statistical argument is nonsensical. Statistical analysis relies on observed results. Bayes Theorem in particular relies heavily on observed results (you can Google it – it’s not terribly difficult to understand). As far as I know, there haven’t been any reputably observed virgin births, well, ever. If he’s arguing that there was one virgin birth in history out of the billions and billions of births there have been, then the probably of a virgin birth is effectively zero. He seems to be using the variable of “background knowledge” (of the Bible, I assume) as a crutch for evidence.

    There’s plenty more wrong with his argument, particularly a heavy reliance on the Bible being the inerrant word of God.”

  5. xmasfish March 9, 2009 at 3:38 pm #

    Silus:

    1. I think your definition of “miracle” is too narrow and semantically negative as it implies that they are, by definition, impossible. I would define a miracle as “an event that can not be reproduced by the natural causes present when the event took place alone”. A “natural cause” would be a potential cause of the event that is material, part of the spatio-temporal universe (and not disctint from it), obeying all the laws of nature.

    2. This would turn the argument into a case of cirular reasoning. It is the contention of the opposing side that we can and do have sufficient evidence of the miracle of the Virgin Birth occuring. Because the opposite of this claim is the contention that the paladin is trying to argue for, he cannot use it as a premise in the debate.

    3. Just because translatations of a book have been edited many times, the information found in the book does not suddenly become doubtful. If this was the case, we would have to discount everything in every ancient history book, as this is the problem that plagues all manuscripts. The solution to the problem is the practice of “textual criticism” and the N.T. is generally said to be very relieble when it comes to that field of study. Also, in acient books, texts are “innocent before proven guilty” when it comes to questions of authorship. If you wish to claim that the Virgin Birth passages are interpolations, you would have to provide evidence.

    Paladin:

    A_Nony_Mouse is correct- I conflated the term “witness” with the term “account”. Still, it remains that the Virgin Birth has been mentioned by two historians using probably independent sources. Whether or not this bolsters the case of the Virgin Birth believer, I don’t know.

    The point is however, not that there was first hand witnesses to the event beyond Mary herself, but that the event itself is renedered higly probable by two “facts” that will form either the background knowledge or evidence of your opponent. These facts include:

    (a) There exists a God that can interact with the universe causally
    (b) Jesus of Nazerath is the Jewish Messiah

    If these “facts” are, in fact, facts, then the Virgin Birth is rendered higly probable.

    This is why I think the debate is unfair for the proponent of the claim. All YOU have to do is share the intrinsic probability of virgin births, which everyone agrees is extremely low, verging on impossible beyond supernatural intereference. The propenent has to provide evidence that a god exists and that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah (actually, the latter should suffice as the existence of a jewish messiah entails that a jewsih God exists) in order to raise the probability of the Virgin Birth above 50/50.

    Also, I hate the way you guys cannot comprehend the idea of a miracle- yes, sperm is required to make a human: all things being equal. But if there is divine causation at work, then such sperm is simply unnecesarry.

    For geirj:

    “Bayes Theorem in particular relies heavily on observed results”

    This is false. I am using a Bayesian interpretation of the theorum- your friend would have us believe that a “frequentist” view is the only view allowed. See this page:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayesian_probability

    Particularly the section: “Justification of the Bayesian View”

    He then proceeds to talk of the intrinsic probability of virgin births! Even when I agree that it is incredibly small! The point is, the probability given evidence and background knowledge is high.

    “He seems to be using the variable of “background knowledge” (of the Bible, I assume) as a crutch for evidence.”

    The use of the term “crutch” implies a weakness on that part but, in want of better terminology, that is what background knowledge IS by definition. It is knowledge that we simply take for granted to be true i.e. knowledge of how the world works. Now, the two “facts” I mentioned:

    (a) A god exists that can interefere with the universe
    (b) Jesus of Nazerith is the Jewish Messiah

    could be cited as either evidence (e) or background knowledge (k). In terms of the debate (e) would be the best option for you opponent to choose, but he will more than likely already have it as (k). This is why arguments considering only intrinsic probablilty will fail miserably.

    Evidence for these facts will come by treating the Bible, not as an inspired document, but as historical documents which is what they are in the eyes of everyone and various arguments for the existence of God found in natural theology.

    “There’s plenty more wrong with his argument, particularly a heavy reliance on the Bible being the inerrant word of God.””

    Precisely none of my argument involves this premise. This is either a lie or a sloppy judgement. If you wish to disagree then please, show me where I assume the Bible to be the innerent word of God i.e. the 66 books of the Bible are all written/inspired by a god and are completely without error.

  6. oddinnuendo March 13, 2009 at 3:43 am #

    I’m not familiar with the concept of a miracle? No, don’t assume something just because it doesn’t go with your beliefs. I know exactly what a miracle is. A miracle like Jesus being born of a virgin is only confirmed by the bible – a ‘holy’ book which has been exposed to centuries of translations and changes. Basic science states that in order to conceive, there has to be an egg and a sperm. So tell me again how science and religion go hand in hand?

  7. xmasfish March 15, 2009 at 8:18 am #

    “I’m not familiar with the concept of a miracle?”

    No, you quite obviously do not.

    “No, don’t assume something just because it doesn’t go with your beliefs.”

    How would it go against my beliefs in any way if someone I’ve never met on the internet actually understood the concept of a miracle?!

    “I know exactly what a miracle is.”

    Then define it.

    “A miracle like Jesus being born of a virgin is only confirmed by the bible – a ‘holy’ book which has been exposed to centuries of translations and changes.”

    Thats not the definition of a miracle. You are merely stating what you see to be the necessary and sufficient conditions for indentifying a miracle, but you havn’t defined what a miracle is.

    Furthermore, you are simply wrong- miracles do not have to be recorded in “holy books” in order to be miracles nor to be identified as such.

    A miracles can be defined thusly: “An event which could not be reproduced given the presence of all the natural causes available at the time and place of the event.”

    Two conditions for identifying an event as a mirical would be:
    1. We are absolutly sure that the event fulfills the criteria of “miracles” mentioned above.
    2. the event occurs in a religio-socio-historical context.

    Also, it would be nice if you provided some evidence that The Bible’s text has been changed dramatically over time,especially if you are insinuating that the Virgin Birth account is the result of such a change.

    “Basic science states that in order to conceive, there has to be an egg and a sperm.”

    In other words, all things being equal, with no supernatural causes present, an egg and sperm are required for a child to be born. This is fine. However, if you actually understoof the concept of a miracle, you would realise that there are SUPERNATURAL causes present which can cause a conception of a child without sperm.

    “So tell me again how science and religion go hand in hand?”

    Well, firstly I never made the claim that “science and religion go hand in hand”- that is an assumption on your part. Secondly, its far to broad a statement to even make. Is science compatibal with ALL religion on the planet? I don’t know enough about other religions to say so. I will however make the claim that miracles in Christian theology do not contradict science. All you have done to refute this notion is show how, given all natural causes, a virgin birth cannot occur. But science does not preclude the intervention of a supernatural cause, unless you’d care to prove otherwise.

  8. oddinnuendo March 18, 2009 at 9:18 pm #

    “Thats not the definition of a miracle. You are merely stating what you see to be the necessary and sufficient conditions for indentifying a miracle, but you havn’t defined what a miracle is.”

    You have obviously misunderstood, I said miracles LIKE the virgin birth. NOT that a miracle is the virgin birth. I gave an example, I had no intention of defining it since I would presume you were aware of what a miracle was. Unlike you, I decided not to be patronizing towards you.

    “Furthermore, you are simply wrong- miracles do not have to be recorded in “holy books” in order to be miracles nor to be identified as such.”

    But you yourself said that the definition of miracles fall into two criterias:

    “1. We are absolutly sure that the event fulfills the criteria of “miracles” mentioned above.
    2. the event occurs in a religio-socio-historical context.”

    The second implies that historical context comes from the BIBLE. It’s like saying that the Bible is evidence that god exists, because it says he does.

    “Also, it would be nice if you provided some evidence that The Bible’s text has been changed dramatically over time,especially if you are insinuating that the Virgin Birth account is the result of such a change.”

    Evidence? How about the different versions of the Bible? Let’s not just stick to Christianity, how about the different versions of the Qur’an?

    Also, no, I did not insinuate that the Virgin Birth was an account of that change.

    And what evidence do you have that miracles can be explained by science? Let’s hear the scientific evidence on the virgin birth then. There isn’t any, there is merely a book that says it happened.

  9. Spacefoetus March 23, 2009 at 5:28 pm #

    Odd Innuendo:

    “You have obviously misunderstood, I said miracles LIKE the virgin birth. NOT that a miracle is the virgin birth. I gave an example, I had no intention of defining it since I would presume you were aware of what a miracle was. Unlike you, I decided not to be patronizing towards you.”

    I’m not trying to be patronizing to you. But a review of your comments reveal that you simply cannot grasp the concept of a miracle. Before you dismiss this statement as bull, read what I say firstly then think about it:

    “But you yourself said that the definition of miracles fall into two criterias:

    “1. We are absolutly sure that the event fulfills the criteria of “miracles” mentioned above.
    2. the event occurs in a religio-socio-historical context.”

    The second implies that historical context comes from the BIBLE. It’s like saying that the Bible is evidence that god exists, because it says he does. ”

    2. The event occurs in a religio-socio-historical context.

    Now how on Earth does this condition mean “its found in the Bible”? What is this nonsense? All it means is if a miracle occurs in a context which is highly significant religously then it counts towards it being an actual miracle.

    And how on Earth is it circular reasoning? I am NOT arguing that we can identify miracles because they are written in the Bible. I never even implied that.

    “Evidence? How about the different versions of the Bible? Let’s not just stick to Christianity, how about the different versions of the Qur’an?”

    What exactly do you mean by “versions”? Do you mean the many popular translations of the Bible on offer today? The existence of such translations does not imply at all that the text of the Bible has changed dramatically over time.

    If by “versions” you mean dramatically different texts over periods of time, then you are not providing any evidence at all since that is what I am asking you to prove in the first place.

    “Also, no, I did not insinuate that the Virgin Birth was an account of that change.”

    Good.

    “And what evidence do you have that miracles can be explained by science?”

    See? You don’t understand the concept of a miracle. Science deals with natural causes. Miracles are not caused by natural causes.

    “Let’s hear the scientific evidence on the virgin birth then. There isn’t any, there is merely a book that says it happened.”

    False dichotmony: suggesting that either:

    1. We can scientifically prove the Virgin Birth or
    2. The only evidence we have is merely a book that said it happened.

    This ignores my fairly huge argument I posted that you’ve failed thus far to address. Option one is clearly impossible since miralces by their very nature cannot be verified by science.

  10. T Crosthwaite July 22, 2009 at 7:28 am #

    The argument about whether Jesus was conceived by a virgin is usually predicated on the assumption that Matthew and Luke said this was so.

    But is this the case, or has Jewish idiom been twisted to fit the mentality of the Greek interpreters of the Bible?

    The interpretations theologians give to the birth narratives run into problems at every instance: Matthew supposedly did not quote Isaiah’s prophecy, but a translation which says something different to the original; supposedly the NT has 2 genealogies of Joseph (who is irrelevant) and none of Jesus; a ridiculous interpretation is given to Mary’s question; it is claimed the angel’s assurance confirms a virgin birth in Mary’s case, but not in Elizabeth’s case; and so on.

    You may find these articles on virgin birth of interest and enlightening –

    http://www.wallsofjericho.info/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=14&Itemid=26

    and, similarly the debate on TheologyWeb:

    Forum — General Theistics 101
    Thread — Does the Bible teach that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived?

    http://www.theologyweb.com/campus/forumdisplay.php?f=160

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